Mandeville, LA – [Editor’s note: In my talk “How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Save The Free World” I quoted G.K. Chesterton our Veritas et Sapientia muse on society being run by men in dresses, listen to my talk here, the Chesterton Quote appears inline.– Ed., M.C.]
Libraries have been written on modernity’s seepage into the Catholic Church, none better than St. Pius X’s Pascendi Gregis. But let us be less ambitious and diagnose this penetration through the prism of a seemingly small detail of the Church’s array of sacred symbols: the priest’s black Roman cassock. Some will surely complain that this is an exercise in the trivial.
It is quite certain that the skirt means female dignity, not female submission; it can be proved by the simplest of all tests. No ruler would deliberately dress up in the recognized fetters of a slave; no judge would appear covered with broad arrows. But when men wish to be safely impressive, as judges, priests or kings, they do wear skirts, the long, trailing robes of female dignity The whole world is under petticoat government; for even men wear petticoats when they wish to govern. – G.K. Chesterton
Yet that very protest is a telling proof of the problem. Such flip demurrals divulge a corrupting superficiality, which cannot recognize an appreciation of the web of crucial symbols that constitute religion, and human life itself. Each strand of that web is critical to the whole, and disturbing even one of those strands strikes a blow to its integrity. Wittgenstein recognized these interwoven layers of meaning to human life when he warned that altering this complex tapestry of truths is like trying to repair a spider’s web with a boxing glove.
But why a focus upon the Roman cassock of the priest? Isn’t this a bit narrow? Not if one sees that the priest is the tip of our Holy Religion’s spear. He is the face of the Church’s redemptive mission, in all its comforting glory and stirring majesty. The priest is the bearer of God’s weighty mysteries, the “dispensatores mysteriorum Dei” (I Cor 4:1), and this weighty mystical vocation demands a correspondingly weighty sign. It must be noted that the Roman cassock, quite different from the black street suit and Roman collar, is dramatically unique, possessing a voice both dramatic and affecting. It bespeaks the supremely singular role the Catholic priest performs. C.S. Lewis once remarked that even if a liturgical vestment is not heavy, it ought to look heavy. Sacred signs bear the heavy weight of the Ineffable Trinity, so should their physical appearance. The Roman cassock does that to a tee. – John Perricone, Clothing The Naked Catholic Square